Alibaba's founders set up charitable trust seen valued at $3b

BEIJING - The founders of Chinese internet company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd have set up a charitable trust focusing on the environment and health that could be worth as much as US$3 billion (S$3.7 billion), making it one of the biggest in Asia.

Jack Ma, Alibaba's founder and executive chair, and Joe Tsai, a co-founder of Alibaba, created the trust that will be funded by share options that represent about 2 per cent of their combined equity in Alibaba, the company said in a statement on its microblog on Thursday.

Alibaba did not give a value for the investment. The trust is being set up as Alibaba prepares for a highly anticipated initial public offering that could value the company at US$151 billion, according to analysts.

That would give the trust a value of US$3.02 billion. "It is impossible for me to be a doctor. But I can have my own way to save lives," Ma was quoted by the state news agency Xinhua as saying. Ma's personal fortune is worth around US$8.9 billion, according to Forbes.

Alibaba, founded 15 years ago by Ma, has cornered the Chinese Internet consumer market and expanded into everything from online auctions to messaging and payments.

Philanthropy in China has yet to take off, as some wealthy Chinese fear generous donations could invite unwanted attention on their fortunes.

China ranks towards the bottom of the list of countries where people give money to charity, volunteer or help a stranger, according to The World Giving Index, compiled by the Charities Aid Foundation.